Immersion Day on Agile – Costa Rica

Added to Community Process The Alliance

Moving the needle: From a simple vision to real impact

Most of us have witnessed how a conference or a well-designed, forward-thinking event can become a transforming, eye-opening experience. Whether it happened at the beginning or at some point along our Agile journey, we are lucky and blessed to have had that experience. But, unfortunately, only some in the world have the opportunity or the financial means to afford a similar one.

Underserved communities worldwide–such as women eager to enter the technology field, high-schoolers learning programming, IT and business students with limited financial capacity, physically impaired, or entrepreneurs from struggling communities–might never have the opportunity to attend an eye-opening workshop, an enlightening hackathon, or a series of thought-provoking simulations. Many might never have access to the Agile knowledge, material, and experiences we have.

We attempt to close that gap via the Emerging Economies Initiative, through enriching events designed to pique curiosity and foster encouragement. Crucially, we ensure these events are free (or as accessible as possible) for attendees.

Here is a recent story of how we do it …

From zero to technical skills

Costa Rica is a small, rugged, rainforested country in Central America. Due to this location–with coastlines on both the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean–its culture is rich with plenty of colors, rhythms, and tastes. Over 90% of its 4.5 million population speaks only Spanish.

Costa Ricans have a strong desire to get ahead and improve social conditions. The country strives to increase education and policies focused on promoting democratic values, advancing human rights, and attracting foreign investment.

A couple of decades ago, with the explosion of the Internet, a community of graphic designers turned its attention to the digital world. They started with WordPress–a platform that requires low-tech skills to build simple, static websites. After a while, many of them became front-end programmers (HTML, CSS, JavaScript). Those who continued a self-learning journey developed deeper technical skills and dived into the backend development sphere, placing a strong emphasis on “accessibility in the web.”

Nowadays, Costa Rica is well-known not only for having strong expertise in digital accessibility but also for being a software development offshore hub for American and Canadian companies– providing services as freelancers or as direct hires working remotely.

Can we make a difference?

Agile is not a well-known topic in Costa Rica–most people have never heard of it. Only a small portion (within the IT community) might have had access to some literature and online classes. The consequence is that many are exposed to unfiltered information: “Scrum is the definition of Agile,” “Agile is for techies,” “Agile is about tons of annoying meetings,” “certifications are what matter,” etc.

Immersion Day on Agile - Costa Rica

Several reasons made us believe that knowledge in Agile might accelerate the professional journey of some Costa Ricans:

  1. Knowledge of Agile technical practices is in high demand in the US and Canada.
  2. An Agile mindset is a great asset when one faces interviews with companies located in developed countries.
  3. Learning about the existence of Agile communities in other countries exponentially expands one’s professional horizons and connections.
  4. Contact with people from developed countries generates the curiosity and encouragement needed to dive deeper and walk further.

This is where the Emerging Economies Initiative came into play. However, as altruistic as it sounds, the challenges ahead were gigantic:

  • How do we find underserved communities in Costa Rica?
  • How do we offer a free event without being perceived as salespeople?
  • How do we explain Agile as a different way of working without sounding like a multilevel marketing company offering classes?
  • How do we find volunteers to handle logistics?
  • How do we filter attendees to avoid consultants and independent trainers whose focus is commercial?
  • How do we find a venue with limited financial resources?
  • How do we find an international presenter with no commercial ties, who speaks Spanish, understands the culture, and is willing to donate their time to prepare the event, get supplies, travel, and deliver in the most engaging way?

Vision agreed

At the Agile 2022 Conference in Nashville, the Chairs of the Agile Alliance’s initiatives hosted a 2-hour showcase to spread the word about the initiatives’ purpose, work, and achievements. During the showcase, an attendee from Guatemala approached the Emerging Economies booth to share his contact in Costa Rica.

Immersion Day on Agile - Costa Rica

That contact took us to two leaders from the Costa Rican WordPress community. They happened to be putting together a two-day gathering for the WordPress community at the Universidad Fidélitas’ facility in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica.

Although it took us a while to connect the dots, we were able to nail it! WordPress Camp’s attendees would be mostly freelancers and designers with basic computing knowledge. So we agreed to run a one-day workshop for the WordPress attendees focused on Agile principles, values, and techniques. In return, we could have a second one-day free workshop for the university’s professors, admin staff, and IT students.

After countless conversations, proposals, and a counter-proposal, we agreed on a vision and started to figure out logistics.

The “Immersion Day on Agile -Principles, Values, and Benefits for IT and out of IT” would have four simulations. Each simulation had a 20 to 30-minute introduction, a 45 to 60-minute activity, and a 30 to 45-minute debrief. They also had a different focus area:

  1. Estimates, retrospectives, bosses, micromanaging, long-term planning, and organizational culture.
  2. Cross-functional teams, T- and H-shape skills, collaboration, and estimates.
  3. Vision, scaling, and feedback loops.
  4. Value, definition of done, and re-work.

We also planned for, a 60 to 90-minute session called “Ask What you Want.”

THE SEEDS PLANTED

During the 8-hour workshop run on November 4 for the Universidad Fidélitas’ professors, staff and IT students, only one of the four simulations planned was run. Likewise, we ran only two out of four simulations on November 5 for WordCamp’s attendees. Over 70% of each workshop became conversational. Unexpectedly, questions, answers, and stories arose from both the attendees and the presenter, while techniques and low-tech tools were explained along the way. We displayed the 200+ prepared slides randomly according to each conversation.

The number of conversations held and their quality made both events remarkable, valuable, and unforgettable to attendees. These are some of their own words:

  • “As I said at the beginning of the workshop, I attended because the invitation said, ‘Learn what small vs big means and a control panel vs real KPIs.’ I ended up learning so many other concepts and tips that I will use for the rest of my life.”
  • “I’m still trying to understand how someone is able to stand up for 8 hours to teach us, entertain us, and change our beliefs…for free. Thanks, Agile Alliance.”
  • “We traveled from Guatemala, a neighboring country, to attend the event. We knew Scrum but hated it. This workshop seemed to be different and provocative. We are self-taught developers (32 and 21 years old). We dropped out of college because we couldn’t stand more than 30 minutes of class. At the end of the workshop, after eight and a half hours, the presenter asked, ‘Have you ever had fun for so long in a classroom?’ Both of us became speechless. I became a bit emotional. We had never learned so many practical things, tips, and techniques. We want to have this event in our country. Please help us! And thank you Agile Alliance.”
  • “My friend Andrea attended the workshop on Friday and told me about it. Immediately, I knew I had to attend the session on Saturday, even though I already had plans–it was my birthday! Every activity and conversation in the workshop blew my mind. Now I need to figure out how to implement so much at work. At night, my boyfriend invited me to have dinner at a nice restaurant. After a while, he said, ‘Have you realized that you have been drawing stuff and explaining Agile things for almost two hours? We haven’t even ordered the meals! And there is no room on the table to put the drinks.’  This became a memorable, enriching birthday for me.”
  • “I’ve been teaching for 22 years at Fidélitas University’s IT Department. I didn’t bring high expectations to the workshop. I thought the activity was going to be a boring lecture, so I planned to stay only from 9 to 11 am and then go back to work.
    However, it was impossible to leave. By 6:30 pm, when the security crew was turning off the building lights and locking the doors, I ran to them to ask for 30 more minutes of time. It was disappointing when they said, ‘No, we can’t.’ Now we need to find out how to have another workshop.”

Immersion Day on Agile - Costa Rica

That is the purpose behind the Emerging Economies Initiative! That is what we strive for! That is why we are trying to connect with non-profits and underserved groups in developing countries.

If you or someone you know has connections in emerging economies, ideas or suggestions, please let us know. Together we can figure out how to make a difference. Maybe we won’t change the world, but together, we can change the world of a few people. One step at a time!

 


About the Author


A Colombian living in Washington, DC.

Enterprise Agile Coach (last 8 years), Agile-PMO builder (previous 7 years), traditional Project Manager (a long time ago) –a journey through retail, utilities, energy, engineering, insurance and finance.

Passionate about: 1) Human behavior, 2) Systems thinking, 3) Organizational change, 4) Growing the bottom line.

A strong believer in the power of people and culture --the most important innovation assets an enterprise can possibly have. Obsession with figuring out what is next for teams, departments and organizations.

Community: Help the Agile Alliance’s Emerging Economies Initiative, the Worldwide Agile Coach Camp, and the Agile Conference of Washington, DC. Lead the agile-thoughts.com project.

agile-thoughts.com | www.linkedin.com/in/abellar/


This is an Agile Alliance community blog post. Opinions represented are personal and belong solely to the author. They do not represent opinion or policy of Agile Alliance.

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